Banh deo: flexible cake, lololol

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The word “dessert” traces its origins lớn the French word desservir, which means “to clear the table.” From mousse và macarons lớn crème brûlée, the French pâtissiers generally specialised in sweet confections that would be served as the last course.

While the word pâtissier translates to pastry cook, pâtissiers also took on the role of the boulangèr (baker) when they were absent. In some kitchens, there were further specialisations: confiseur (candies and petit fours), glacier (frozen & cold desserts), & décorateur (show pieces & specialty cakes).

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In Malaysia—a nation at the heart of Maritime Southeast Asia, trang chủ to many ethnicities, religions, and cultures—there are no hard và fast lines between “pastry” & “dessert.” With so many culinary influences, there is also no unified tradition to lớn dictate whether desserts should be sweet or savory, or whether they should be served after the main course.

The Malay word kuih exemplifies the broad and flexible understanding that shapes the local conception of “dessert.” Kuih is distinguished from nasi (e.g., nasi lemak and nasi dagang) in being a bite-sized snack và not a full meal. It can, however, be eaten in the morning, during tea time, or after dinner.

It encompasses cookies, puddings, biscuits, và pastries. Kuih are often sweet, but there are also savory variants. Most kuih are steamed, but some are deep-fried. A kuih spread may also include cakes that have been cut into smaller, bite-size pieces, rather than being served as larger pie-shaped slices.

There are, of course, many local desserts that vì chưng fit the Euro-American idea of a prototypical dessert: cold, decadently sweet và indulgent. The difference lies in the use of local ingredients: coconut, palm sugar (gula melaka), sago, pandan leaves, etc.

Given Malaysia’s multi-ethnic population và colonial past, many of these desserts trace their origins to lớn more distant shores.


Nội dung thiết yếu (Table of Contents)


20. Bahulu

1. Cendol

Cendol is popular across Southeast Asia. It is easily identifiable by the thick, green rice flour jelly that gives it its name. Don’t be put off by the bright green worm-shaped jelly—the màu sắc comes from all-natural pandan leaves.

Cendol is typically served with ice shavings, green jelly, gula melaka, và coconut milk. It may also be eaten with additional toppings such as sweet corn, sweetened red azuki beans & durian.

This dessert probably originated from Java, where it was once drunk as a drink (unlike the porridge-like mixture it is today) named dawet. Given the region’s tropical climate, the addition of shaved ice to lớn dawet probably occurred much later, during the colonial era.

The advent of British reefer ships (which used refrigeration to lớn transport perishable commodities across long distances) during the late 19th century probably provided port-based entrepreneurs and culinary innovators with the necessary ice.

Though the exact origins of cendol are unclear—it may have also been derived from thai lot chong or Burmese mont lat saung—there is no disputing its popularity across Malaysia. It was even classified as an Intangible Heritage Object by Malaysia’s Department of National Heritage in 2013.

2. Ais Kacang

Ais kacang is popular in Malaysia, Singapore & Brunei. It is also known as ABC (an acronym for Ais Batu Campur). It bears many similarities to lớn the Chinese bàobīng, the Japanese kakigōri, the Korean patbingsu & the Filipino halo-halo.

With its bright multicolor hue & maximalist philosophy with regard to lớn toppings, ais kacang makes a more memorable visual impression than cendol.

It can be served with red beans, palm seeds, grass jelly, nata de coco, sweet corn, agar-agar cubes, roasted peanuts, a scoop of ice cream & cendol. This mountain of ice is usually drizzled with red rose syrup và condensed milk.

3. Kuih Lapis

While there are many types of kuih, kuih lapis is probably the most visually memorable. It gets its name from the use of alternating colored layers. There are versions with two layers (e.g., green và white), while others have a rainbow màu sắc palette.

This pleasing aesthetic is achieved by steaming each layer gradually (to ensure that the colors bởi not mix). Due to its rice pudding base, it has a sticky và chewy texture. It is often mildly or slightly sweet.

4. Pineapple Tarts

Pineapple tarts are a beloved Chinese New Year delicacy, but they are eaten throughout the year. They are also popular in neighboring Singapore (which has a majority Chinese population). In the Hokkien dialect, the word pineapple is pronounced very similarly khổng lồ the phrase “prosperity is arriving.”

The perfect pineapple tart is golden in color, with a buttery & crumbly pastry shell.

The filling is a thick pineapple jam, which has been reduced with sugar, palm sugar, salt, star anise, cinnamon bark, & cloves. There are also open-faced pineapple tarts, where additional effort is taken to lớn make each tart look lượt thích a dainty sunflower.

5. Mooncake

The mooncake is traditionally eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival & is traditionally served with hot tea. Given Malaysia’s significant Chinese population, it can easily be found across the country. Needless to lớn say that mooncakes are one of the most popular desserts in đài loan trung quốc too.

It is traditionally made with a thick crust and a filling (either red bean or lotus seed paste). Many mooncakes are baked with one or two salted duck egg yolks in the middle.

Fancy, high-end and “luxury” mooncakes are often presented lớn business clients và family members. Since the invention of mooncakes with taro paste, pineapple và durian, local companies have been experimenting with a wide variety of exotic & unorthodox flavors & ingredients.

6. Sago Gula Melaka

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This dessert is the ABC’s & cendol’s more minimalist cousin. As its name suggests, it is made with two key ingredients: chewy sago pearls (which are actually tasteless) và a generous amount of melted gula melaka.

Thick và fragrant coconut cream (santan) seals the deal. While a dessert with three main ingredients seems simple enough, getting each element right is no mean feat.

7. Pandan Layer Cake

The pandan layer cake is so ubiquitous that it’s difficult to lớn pinpoint who invented it and when. At some point, it seems that someone decided to reinvent the simple pandan sponge cake by drawing inspiration from the kuih lapis.

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The additional layers are made with caster sugar, fresh pandan juice, coconut milk và agar-agar powder.

Related: Coconut Pandan Cendol Cake Recipe

The latter gives the layers a jelly-like texture & consistency, while the pandan juice gives them a bright green color. (The sponge cake layer is a lighter green color). When expertly made, every layer will be of the same thickness—giving each slice a pleasing symmetry.

8. Agar-agar

Agar is often associated with petri dishes in biology labs. In Asia, agar (which is derived from algae) has been used for desserts for centuries. It has a similar (but noticeably different) chewiness khổng lồ gelatin (the key ingredient in Jell-O).

Agar is white, semi-translucent & made up of 80% dietary fiber. Agar-agar makes the most of other local ingredients and flavorings (coconut, pandan, gula melaka and cendol) lớn produce a variety of jellies, puddings and custards.

These are usually served as kuih-sized pieces and eaten after the main meal (or as a daytime snack).

9. Dodol

One of the oldest indigenous sweets that was developed in Maritime Southeast Asia, dodol is popular in the region & on the Indian subcontinent (Sri Lanka & southern India). It is made with palm sugar, coconut milk, and rice flour. These ingredients are mixed and stirred together in a large wok for 3-5 hours.

The over result is a thick, sticky và sweet toffee-like cake that is usually dark brown in colour. This traditional delicacy is usually served during festivals such as Hari Raya Aidilfitri. Different flavors can be added for variety, lượt thích durian or banana.

10. Tau Fu Fa (Tofu Pudding)

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This Chinese dessert is made with smooth, soft & silky tofu. It can be served with gula melaka, brown sugar or clear syrup. The amount of sugar added can be customized.

While it is usually served warm, it also goes down well after being chilled (especially in Malaysia’s hot và humid climate). It is usually made và sold by street vendors who sell freshly made soy milk and tau fu fa.

11. Egg Tarts

The popularity of egg tarts in Malaysia can be attributed to Cantonese migrants. Drawing inspiration from the English custard tart and the Portuguese pastel de nata (via Macau), the pastry was invented in Guangzhou and then spread throughout the Overseas Chinese diaspora via Hong Kong.

The perfect egg tart has a flaky & buttery pastry crust and a silky-smooth egg custard filling. It is usually served at dim sum restaurants và Chinese-operated bakeries.

12. Kuih Ros

Also known as Kuih Loyang, Kuih Ros gets its name from its rose-like shape. It may have been inspired by the Tamil community’s achu murukku & kue kembang goyang (a traditional flower-shaped snack).

Usually golden in color, it is made with rice flour, eggs, sugar, coconut milk, & a pinch of salt. A mold is used khổng lồ create its signature rose-like appearance.

13. Roti Tisu

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Roti tisu (the Malay word for tissue) is a thinner version of the traditional roti canai (a popular breakfast food). It is typically served as a towering cone và coated with sugar, kaya (coconut jam), condensed milk or even ice cream.

14. Dadar Gulung (rolled pancake)

Also known as kuih ketayap and kuih dadar, this small rolled pancake is made from rice flour và filled with grated coconut và palm sugar. Its bright green màu sắc comes from pandan leaves or daun suji. It is widely available in Malaysia, Indonesia và Brunei.

15. Bubur cha Cha

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This porridge-like dessert is similar lớn cendol, but it can be served warm or cold. It is believed khổng lồ have been originally invented by the Betawis, Malays và Peranakans và is now widely available in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand.

It is made by cooking pearled sago, sweet potatoes, banana slices, black eyed peas và yams in coconut milk. Grated coconut is sometimes added. The purple (yam), orange (sweet potato) & yellow (banana) colors give it a distinct appearance.

16. Pulut Durian (durian sticky rice)

This traditional delicacy is usually made during the durian season. It pairs glutinous rice (cooked with pandan leaves and salt) with a thick & fragrant durian sauce.

The sauce is made by boiling durian in coconut milk and water. This dish can also be served lượt thích mango sticky rice, with the glutinous rice being served alongside generous amounts of fresh durian flesh.

17. Payasam

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This traditional Indian rice pudding is popular during Muslim weddings & festivals. It is made by boiling rice, vermicelli or tapioca with milk, sugar, nuts, raisins and cardamom. Some recipes substitute sago for rice & gula melaka for sugar.

18. Ang Ku Kueh (red tortoise cake)

Why mold a pastry lớn resemble a tortoise shell and dye it red? In Chinese culture, both are associated with good fortune và prosperity. Ang Ku Kueh are usually prepared for major festivals và presented as offerings khổng lồ Chinese deities.

The soft và sticky skin is made primarily from glutinous rice flour & sweet potato. Traditional fillings include grounded peanuts and mung bean paste.

19. Pisang Goreng (fried banana fritters)

Pisang goreng can be made with ripe or not-too-ripe bananas, so some are sweeter than others. The bananas are peeled, covered in batter (a mixture of rice flour, corn starch, baking powder, sugar and salt), và then deep-fried khổng lồ perfection. Once fried, it should be golden in color.

20. Bahulu

This traditional Malay kuih resembles the madeleine. While these small sponge cakes can be made with different molds, the most popular ones are made using button-shaped molds.

They are served on special occasions & eaten throughout the year. They are made with eggs, sugar, vanilla extract, flour và baking soda.

In recent years, many young & trendy Malaysians have been drawn khổng lồ imported desserts. From bubble tea to mochi, from premium ice cream, Instagram-worthy pastries & confectionaries lớn luxury chocolates and yogurt bars, global và regional desserts are becoming more & more common.

Meanwhile, a new generation of entrepreneurs are adopting and embracing new business models to lớn sell time-honoured delights.

While the traditional Malaysian desserts flourished by appealing lớn child, farmer, laborer, housewife, & white-collar worker alike, the new wave of desserts seem khổng lồ cater more specifically lớn the hip, the trendy và the urban.

There is, however, no bitter war between old and new, between these familiar localized delights & the novel imported concoctions. Perhaps all this newness even fuels a nostalgic desire for the rose-tinted past—one imagined lớn be simpler, more unhurried, more down lớn earth.

The war is more about the narcissism of small differences và regional food rivalries—evident in the general Malaysian outrage over CNN’s 2018 claim that Singapore’s take on cendol was “especially tempting.” The war of words might really be a signifier of something deeper, but a bowl of the ‘best’ cendol is clearly worth fighting for.